Adventures in Political Accountability and Campaign Finance Enforcement in Washington State
By Glen Morgan
Everyone needs a hobby. Might as well make it a productive one. Confronting politicians, PACs, judges, and others for their law breaking can be beneficial to everyone.
Over the past few years, I’ve put a little effort into helping ensure Washington State’s glorious campaign finance laws are enforced, reformed, and experienced first-hand by as many politicians, judges, and PACs as possible. Mostly this has been a function of free time and a willingness to study an obscure law passed with good intentions, but which has produced mixed results. Sometimes it is worth reflecting on what has been accomplished by this hobby. I expect this project to continue for maybe another ten years or so (depending on how long the law lasts), but it seems worthwhile to review the adventure mid-stream.
One unquestionable result was the fact that compliance with the current campaign finance laws in Washington State is higher than it ever has been in the past. Far more politicians, PACs, judges, and others get much closer to following the law than their predecessors. I will take credit for this outcome. One inevitable result has been the cottage industry on the Democratic Party side of the political spectrum of paying for “compliance experts,” and on the Republican side, the treasurers seem to take their job much more seriously. The day of the unprofessional treasurer is long gone for any large political campaigns. It is rare for candidates to do their own reporting today.
Everything counts in large amounts
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson
I became interested in Washington State’s campaign finance laws in a more focused way in late 2016, as a result of exchanging complaints with some of my friends in the Democratic Party as they were losing two local campaigns for the Thurston County Commissioner’s office. I’ve discussed this in more detail in the past (see stories here, here, and here). I consider Washington State AG Bob Ferguson and Senator Sam Hunt as the two people who most inspired me to start this quest. I can’t thank them enough for inspiring and motivating me to travel down this road. All the politicians who have been fined for the legal violations I caught and exposed should thank these two politicians for their encouragement to launch this crusade.
Since 2016 I have filed approximately 580 campaign finance complaints with Washington State’s Campaign Finance enforcer – the Public Disclosure Commission. Some complaints, particularly when I was just getting up to speed about this process, went nowhere. Some documented relatively minor violations which resulted in technical fixes. Other complaints resulted in lawsuits filed by Washington State’s Attorney General Bob Ferguson (against his will, due to what was called a “Citizen Action Notice” process) with modestly significant settlements. While many complaints are still in “process” and some are still in court, it is worth reviewing the cases that have been resolved to formal conclusion.
A volume of campaign finance cases resolved in a relatively short period of time provide us some statistically significant data from which to draw policy conclusions, measure bias by the agencies involved, and other useful information for those who care. Presumably someone now or in the future will care. Everyone needs a hobby, and this has been mine for a while and as joyful as the process has been so far, I’m hopeful that I can inspire others to join in the fun and experience the sense of accomplishment a productive and useful hobby like this can generate. However, one should be cautioned, this hobby is unlikely to win you many friends in the political world. Obviously, the politicians you catch breaking the law aren’t happy they were exposed, but the ones you don’t catch aren’t happy with you either because they feel like they will be next. Everyone gets annoyed, upset, conspiratorial, and they probably won’t put you on their Christmas card list or invite you to the next wine and cheese club meeting.
“I KNOW NO METHOD TO SECURE THE REPEAL OF BAD OR OBNOXIOUS LAWS SO EFFECTIVE AS THEIR STRINGENT EXECUTION.”
President Ulysses S. Grant March 4, 1869 at his first inauguration address (often a similar quote is attributed to Abraham Lincoln, but this appears to be the first verifiable confirmed quote)
The Cost of Violating the law – Once it was high, but no longer
Abraham Lincoln was credited with saying that the best way to repeal a law is to enforce it strictly. However, his use of this statement has not been confirmed. President Grant used a similar quote (see above) at his first inaugural address in 1869. Regardless of the quote source, the operating principal behind it is still relevant today. This can be applied to Washington State’s Campaign Finance laws as well. The original statute was created by Citizen’s initiative in 1972 (see here). However, like a creaky, leaking boat left too long in Puget Sound, this law has collected barnacle layers of random new laws and rules proposed by incumbent politicians who are always looking for ways to make life more difficult for future political challengers. The current law can be found at RCW 42.17A. Like all laws in Washington State, the underlying rules drafted by the agencies enforcing those laws add another level of complexity, and most of the Washington State Administrative Code supporting Washington State’s campaign finance laws can be found at WAC 390-16 and elsewhere.
I started this process with the clear recognition that everyone has violated Washington State’s campaign finance laws (the Olympian quoted me to this effect in 2016 – see article here). That was true then, but it is not entirely true anymore (after the passage of HB 2938 the “Stop Glen Morgan bill” see article here). However, violations are still more numerous and common than anyone could have time to file complaints to address all of them. This still reflects some problems with the law itself, but the bureaucracy is motivated to ignore these problems by ensuring that the law is no longer strictly enforced, which in turn ensures the law survives no matter how poorly it is written. This creates the opposite outcome of the axiom often misattributed to Lincoln – “A law not strictly enforced is sure to last forever.” This is a wise policy choice for the bureaucracy. If they ignore or give minor wrist slaps to the violators (particularly if they are affiliated with the Democrats), perhaps the legislature won’t mess with the law on which your job depends.
Despite this, and despite the political bias inherent in a one-party ruled state (which does influence the bureaucracy and how they enforce the laws), some politicians and PACs had violations too obvious to ignore and they were forced to pay some sort of price for those violations, at least to maintain appearances. Here is the list of the first 60 I exposed (who were fined or paid a penalty) and how much they settled in lawsuits, fines, forfeits to the state, or reimbursements to their campaigns due to illegal reimbursements (you can see updates to this list including all source documents, which is maintained here):
- Satpal Sidhu (Whatcom County Exec.) – Oct 22, 2019 – personal forfeit – $1,380
- Political Destiny PAC – Oct 18, 2019 – Citizen Act. Sanctions – $1,300
- WANA PAC – Oct 14, 2019 – Forfeit – $130
- Rep. Debra Lekanoff (40th LD) – Oct 2, 2019 – Forfeit – $40
- Artur Wojnowski (Pt. Angeles C.C.) – Sept 27, 2019 – PDC Fine –$100
- Erinn Howell (Bremerton Council. cand.) – Sept 23, 2019 – PDC Fine – $100
- WEA-PAC – September, 2019 – Citizen Action – $19,354.08
- Daniel Satterberg (K.C. Prosecutor) – Sept 9, 2019 – Forfeit funds –$464.18
- Kathryn Campbell (SeaTac Council) – Aug 28,2019 – PDC Fine – $150
- Yes for Libraries! PAC – August 8, 2019 – Forfeit funds – $45
- Pedro Olguin (Burien City Council) – Aug 5, 2019 – PDC Fine – $900
- 38th LD Democrats – July 23, 2019 – PDC Fine/Forfeit funds – $5,150
- Sheryl Miller (Pend Orielle County Cand.) – June 27,2019 -PDC Fine- $5,000
- Clark County Democrats – June 27, 2019 -Cit. Action – $6,000
- Representative John Lovick (44th LD) –June 21, 2019 – PDC fine – $900
- Represent Okanogan County PAC – Forfeit funds – $950
- Ehren Flygare (Tribe Lobbyist) – April 24, 2019 – PDC fine – $450
- Jim Cooper (Olympia City Council)- April 19, 2019 – Cit. Action – $250
- 39th LD Democrats – April 17, 2019 – Forfeit funds – $450.29
- Pacific County Democrats – April 11, 2019 – PDC fine + forfeit – $875
- Rep. Larry Seaquist (26th LD)– March 18, 2019 – PDC fine – $300
- UFCW Local 21 PAC – Feb 14, 2019 – PDC fine – $40,000
- 25th LD Democrats – Jan 28, 2019 – PDC fine – $750
- Active in Democracy PAC – Jan 18, 2019 – PDC fine – $300
- Jim CastroLang – (Spokane CC Dem Exec Dir) – Dec 20, 2018 – AG lawsuit – $1,500
- Shir Regev (8th LD candidate) – Dec 12, 2018 – PDC fine – $300
- Spokane County Democrats (SCCD) – Nov 27, 2018 – AG lawsuit – $83,300
- Justin Galloway – (Spokane CC Dem Treasurer) – Nov 21, 2018 – AG lawsuit – $500
- LM PAC (Laurie Jenkins pet PAC)– Nov 12, 2018 –PDC fine $300
- Nathan Choi (candidate, appellate judge) – Nov 9, 2018 – AG lawsuit – $41,519.21
- George Hurst – (candidate, Lynwood Mayor) – Nov 9, 2018 – PDC fine – $300
- 36th LD Democrats – Oct 16, 2018 – Citizen Action lawsuit – $7,805
- $15 NOW PAC – Sept 14, 2018 – PDC fine – $150
- Tamborine Borrelli (2nd LD candidate) – Sept 4, 2018 – PDC fine $300
- King County Democrats – June 29, 2018 – AG lawsuit – $36,797
- Councilmember Jim Cooper (Olympia) – June 15, 2018 – AG lawsuit – $1,125
- Thurston County Democrats – June 15, 2018 – AG lawsuit – $27,426
- Teresa Purcell (19th LD candidate) – May 25, 2018 – AG lawsuit – $22,395
- San Juan County Democrats – April 19, 2018 – AG lawsuit – $13,105
- Clallam County Democrats – April 18, 2018 – Cit. Action lawsuit – $12,100
- Sharlaine LaClair (40th LD candidate) – April 6, 2018 – AG lawsuit – $2,500
- Walla Walla Firefighters PAC – Mar 9, 2018 – Cit.Action lawsuit – $11,237.50.
- Bailey Stober (Chair, KC Dems) – Mar 21, 2018 – AG lawsuit – $5,015.74
- Eastside Democratic Dinner Committee – Mar 6, 2018 – AG lawsuit – $6,925
- Senator Karen Fraser (22nd LD) – Feb 27, 2018 – Cit Action lawsuit – $27,472
- Kittitas County Democrats – Feb 26, 2018 – AG lawsuit – $28,182
- Rep. Monica Stonier (49th LD) – Jan 30, 2018 – Cit Action lawsuit – $6,215
- Judge Katherine Stolz (Pierce County) – Jan 18, 2018 – Cit Action lawsuit – $13,740
- Tukwila Firefighters for Democracy PAC – December 8, 2017 – Cit. Action lawsuit – $23,038
- 37th Leg. Dist. Dems – Nov 27, 2017 – Forfeit illegal funds – $358.51
- Rep. Jeff Morris (40th LD) – Nov 20, 2017 – AG lawsuit – $1,130
- Pierce County Democrats – Oct 27, 2017 – AG lawsuit – $38,520
- WA & N. Idaho Dist. Council Laborers PAC – Sept 22, 2017 – AG lawsuit – $36,310
- People for Thurston County PAC – Aug 24, 2017 – Cit. Action lawsuit – $14,640
- Rep. Strom Peterson (21st LD) – Aug 15, 2017 – AG lawsuit – $11,950
- Senator Sam Hunt (22nd LD) – July 14, 2017 – AG lawsuit – $6,475
- Speaker Frank Chopp (43rd LD) – Mar 14, 2017 – AG lawsuit – $6,880
- Kelsey Hulse (Thurston County Commissioner cand.) – Mar 2, 2017 – AG lawsuit –$2,920
- Kshama Sawant (Seattle City Council) – Feb 21, 2017 – SEEC fine – $150
- Jay Manning (DOE Director/Gov. Chief of Staff) – Feb 13, 2017 – AG lawsuit – $6,385
While this is list is obviously a work still in process, with many more in the pipeline, even with the PDC’s current abandonment of campaign finance enforcement, there will be more politicos who are caught, exposed and will need to pay a fine of some kind (even if it is just the discipline equivalent of a minor wrist slap). The total above is currently only a miserly total of $585,642. This doesn’t include legal costs or compliance costs.
Most politicians break the law, but what happens when someone actually tries to confront them?
These fines do not go to me, they go to the state. I get nothing for filing these complaints and exposing the truth – it is just an academic exercise and a hobby at this point. These penalties accrue to the general fund of the State of Washington, where it gets squandered along with the rest of the tax dollars which have been extracted from the people of Washington State. Some of these funds go directly to the Public Disclosure Commission or the Attorney General’s office to reimburse them for investigative, legal, or court costs.
This is just part 1 in a series which will attempt to document:
- The chaotic and challenging nature of holding government accountable
- The Byzantine world of government accountability (and how accountability has long been lost and is mostly an illusion)
- The way government and bureaucracy can be politically influenced to bend the rules
- Absurd reactions and pointless political panic
- How the bureaucracy backs down and changes the rules to reduce accountability
- Most policy decisions are inherently political in government
- One person can have an impact, if they want to commit the time
One person really can have an impact, but they don’t exist as an island. It would be impossible to make this impact or write this article without the politicians, judges and PACs breaking the law so often and making my work so much easier as a result. Without their unwilling participation, there would be nothing to see here. They are really the true stars of this adventure and they deserve the spotlight.
Maybe you could make it your hobby too?
OUR CONSTITUTION BEGINS WITH THE PHRASE “WE THE PEOPLE.” IT WAS THE FOUNDER’S INTENT THAT GOVERNMENT BE CREATED BY THE PEOPLE, TO SERVE THE PEOPLE. IT WASN’T THEIR INTENTION FOR THE PEOPLE TO SERVE THE GOVERNMENT. IT WAS ALWAYS INTENDED THAT GOVERNMENT WHICH FAILED TO SERVE THE PEOPLE SHOULD BE “ALTERED OR ABOLISHED.” UNTIL WE RETURN TO THE FOUNDER’S INTENT, WE REMAIN WE THE GOVERNED…
Executive Director and Founder of We the Governed
Published with Permission of wethegoverned.com